Kansas Principal Shares Tips for First-Year Success with Summit Learning: ‘Focus on Teamwork’

Joining the Summit Learning community is an exciting time for schools, teachers, and students. By embarking on this journey, they are opening new doors for stronger student engagement, the development of important skills, and the opportunity for students to become leaders in their own education. This journey requires high levels of commitment from our partners, and the process of acclimating to our program can be challenging, yet rewarding. 

Bennington Grade School in Kansas joined the Summit Learning community in the 2018-19 school year. In this interview, Principal Craig Gantenbein reflects back on his school’s first year using the program, and shares his tips and wisdom for other school communities. 

Tell us about your first year with Summit Learning. What was challenging? What was motivating? 

Looking back, our first year was challenging. It was important to us to work purposefully to learn the Base Curriculum and align it with our Kansas state curriculum. With Summit Learning, every school is assigned a support team to provide guidance as you implement the program. During our first year, we leaned on our support team for their expertise, but we also “turned inward” and came together to collaborate as we all learned more and more about the program. We educated each other on our discoveries and truly adopted the motto, “I succeed, we succeed.” It was a very motivating way to work as a team of educators. 

Why do you think Summit Learning is right for your students? 

With personalized learning being a core component of Kansas Redesign, we learned quickly that the Summit Learning program could provide us not only with the opportunity to tailor instruction to meet the needs of all of our students, but with the support we’d need to make it happen. Upon joining the program, we received high-quality, continuous training for our educators, which has helped us continue to improve both our teaching skills and our overall use of the program. 

How has the teaching at your school changed since starting Summit Learning?

Now, I see my teachers doing great things as they get to know their students one-on-one. They’re able to use up-to-date progress data to find out what students need to understand what they’re learning, and can make informed decisions to meet those needs. They’re able to really connect with every student, which goes a long way. 

What helped you through the challenges of learning to implement Summit Learning? 

In a word… teamwork. Our team worked together with families every step of the way, and I’m so proud of them. Early in the year we met with parents and invited them to the school, and this year we continue meeting virtually due to COVID. We answered questions to make sure their needs were met and that their students were getting what they needed to succeed. As colleagues, we worked closely to lift each other up and keep moving forward through the challenges. We also provided our teachers with the time they needed to develop their units and get familiar with the program. 

What advice would you give teachers in their first year of Summit Learning? 

Focus on teamwork. Make sure your team feels supported and empowered to get to know the program and speak up when they have questions. Talk with other Summit Learning schools in your community as questions arise. Your fellow educators can be a great resource as you build the program at your school. 

Stay in touch with your School Success Manager, and focus on your school’s improvement goals throughout the year. Use data to drive instruction, and involve your community in the process. Stay the course, and know that while the first year is a challenge, it’s worth it. We’re now in year three, and we’re so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. 

What changes have you seen in your students?

We’re seeing students empowered to work ahead when they are able, and to take their time when they need to revisit concepts. Through mentoring and projects, our students are learning to take charge of their schoolwork and build skills they didn’t have before, like agency and goal-setting. Guide your students as they develop these skills, especially self-direction. When you see it start to “click” for them, it’s a powerful moment for everyone. 

About the author

Craig Gantenbein
Craig Gantenbein is the Principal at Bennington Grade School in Bennington, Kansas.